AUGUSTA (AP) – Gov. John Baldacci said Wednesday he’s optimistic ongoing discussions on his reworked health care reform package will lead to a successful conclusion in the days ahead.

Before lawmakers cleaned up paperwork ready for votes and leaders gave them a few days off, Baldacci spoke confidently about prospects for his Dirigo plan, which is aimed at curbing health care costs while expanding insurance coverage to those without it.

“Overall, I’m optimistic,” he said, adding that “good progress has been made.”

The proposal went back to a select legislative committee Wednesday after some of the thornier details were discussed for a couple of days by insurers, providers, hospitals and other parties with stakes in the outcome.

Baldacci acknowledged that one of the most difficult provisions is a 4 percent assessment to be paid by private health insurers to help fund Dirigo Health, a proposed semi-public agency that would provide policies for thousands of employees of small businesses, self-employed workers and those without employer coverage.

Trish Riley, the administration’s top health policy official who has been involved in the discussions, said a new agreement dealing with the assessments, designed to address the concerns of insurers, is on the table.

The proposal involves a set of “triggers” or requirements that insurers could not raise their rates until savings from charity care and bad debt actually come in so the savings could be passed on.

In another development considered positive by the bill’s supporters, Riley said that consumers’ activists who had grown cool to the health package after ardently supporting it initially were showing renewed support.

Baldacci said dispelling some of the perceptions about the legislation and getting negotiators more comfortable with the details of his plan were big challenges in getting his bill through in the waning days of the 2003 session.

“I think it’s getting people at a higher level of comfort when they begin to see more of the details,” Baldacci said. “We’re in one of those situations where, unfortunately, the perception initially isn’t where the details are.”

AP-ES-06-04-03 1458EDT

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